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Disinfo update – 17/12/2018

Google still has no answers for YouTube’s biggest problem

Now its Sundar Pichai’s turn to be grilled by lawmakers. Last week, Google CEO took the stand before the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, DC. Among the topics discussed, Pichai has been confronted on Youtube’s moderation problem, especially regarding conspiracy videos on the platform. Pichai referred to the company policies against hate speech and that the platform started adding “authoritative” context to its search results for breaking news stories earlier this year. This issue is even more worrying that according to a Pew Research study, social networks, and Youtube in particular, have become the main source of information for younger Americans. 

Washington confidential 

Facebook and Google auditions have shed light on various channels of disinformation. As the US Senate is investigating possible Russian interference in the 2016 elections, a report conducted by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika shows that nearly every social media platform has been used by Russian influence to support Trump’s election.

The Guardians and the war on truth

For the first time, journalists have been chosen by Time magazine as “person of the year”. Jamal Khashoggi, Maria Ressa, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the newsroom of Capital Gazette have been killed or targeted for their work. The magazine has chosen to present them as “The Guardians” in “The war on Truth”, current period of defiance against the press and manipulation of information. This choice is a strong statement against the spread of misinformation by leaders who have sought to undermine critical independent journalism. Among shortlisted candidates are also Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

“It became clear that the manipulation and abuse of truth is the common thread of so many of this year’s major stories, from Russia to Riyadh to Silicon Valley,” Edward Felsenthal, Time’s editor in chief and chief executive, said during the announcement on NBC’s “Today” show.

This is the end

Just when journalists are in the headline for defending the truth, fact-checking journalists decided to break their partnership with Facebook. According to them, the platform has not done enough for their action to be efficient. They are particularly resentful against the company hiring a PR firm to go after its opponents, in a way that fuelled conspiracy theories against George Soros. “Why should we trust Facebook when it’s pushing the same rumors that its own factcheckers are calling fake news?” said a current Facebook fact checker

In the Library

What to read, watch and listen to this week:


  • December 18DisinfoLab Webinar: How to tackle disinformation with education? With Marije Arentze from Drog project

See all previous and upcoming disinfo events in our agenda

Fear of getting bored during the Christmas holidays? You can prepare a submission for one of those calls for papers:

  • ACM Transactions on Social Computing: Special Issue on Negotiating Truth and Trust in Socio-Technical Systems
  • The Media & Democracy program at the Social Science Research Council invites submission of abstracts for a research workshop organized in collaboration with Cristian Vaccari (Loughborough University), to be held in New York City on June 13–14, 2019.
  • The Centre for Direct Democracy Studies (CDDS) at the Faculty of Law of the University of Białystok, Poland (UwB) announced a call for papers for the upcoming sixth volume in the European Integration and Democracy Series, devoted to challenges for democracy, the rule of law (Rechtsstaat) and the respect for fundamental rights, posed by contemporary disinformation practices and digital media. Deadline is extended to 31 January 2019. Submit here. 

HR corner

Lie Detectors is looking for a Germany Programme Director and Germany Programme Assistant based in Berlin.

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Disinfo update – 11/12/2018

EU has a plan

On Wednesday, the European Commission released its awaited Action Plan against disinformation. The plan focuses on external disinformation, strengthening of EU communication budget and  significantly increases EastStratCom resources, the EU counter-disinformation Unit, to oppose Russian-financed campaigns. Nevertheless, the danger in focusing on external threats is to neglect endogenous sources of disinformation in Member States.

Hence, the Commission and Member States will set up a Rapid Alert System, which concrete form has not been detailed yet. Audiovisual media regulators will be tasked to monitor the implementation of the Code of Conduct signed by online platforms. We are looking forward to this monitoring, as it might constitute a first step for audiovisual regulators to step up on this issue.

Finally, it is very positive that teams of multi-disciplinary independent fact-checkers and researchers will be supported, as well as media literacy initiatives. EU DisinfoLab supports this recommendation in its report on automated tackling of disinformation to be presented on 13 December to the European Parliament Science and Technology Options Assessment Panel.

According to Jakub Kalenski from Atlantic Council and Roland Freudenstein from Wilfried Martens Center“what we need now is a follow-up in the sense of a speedy implementation. The extra resources need to be dedicated to those people who have a track-record in countering disinformation, not to units that talk about “strategic communication”, but in fact do not deliver in countering disinformation.”

From bots to economic boom?

In a culture that is heavily structured around image, it is now clear that DeepFakes are disinformation next big thing. WITNESS, the human rights organization focused on the power of video and technology for good, held the first-ever expert meeting connecting experts to share recommendations around this issue. Interestingly, investor Ryan Holmes is of the opinion that in an economy based on information exchanges, economical solutions will arise to prove the validity of this information, thus fake news patrolling might be the next internet boom.

France: did Facebook fueled anger?

Fuel protests and demonstrations organized in the past weeks have partly turned into a violent riot in Paris and other major cities. The movement that started in small towns and rural areas, was born on Facebook. Interestingly, the recent change in Facebook algorithm favoring local news might have contributed to spread the anger and help coordinate the actions. Newspaper Le Monde, reports that the French General Defense Secretariat is investigating on fake accounts sharing disinformation on the issue. According to a study, hundreds of accounts could be linked to Russian influence.


What to read, watch and listen to this week:


See all previous and upcomi eng disinfo events in our agenda


Media literacy initiative Lie Detectors is one of the laureates of 2018 the Digital Skills Award

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Disinfo Update 06/12/2018

Facebook: the empty chair

Last Tuesday certainly wasn’t a good day for Richard Allen, Facebook VP for Policy. As Zuckerberg refused to appear (his chair was pointedly left empty), Allen answered questions of a “Grand Committee” of MPs from 9 countries at Britain’s House of Commons. Among the concerns raised by lawmakers was Facebook’s policies regarding third-party application developers and the use and collection of user data. After having seized internal documents from a lawsuit opposing Facebook to Six4Three, an app developing company, MP, Damian Collins suggested that the platform was made aware of suspicious Russian behaviour on its platform as early as 2014, which according to Facebook was a false alarm. These emails, to which the Wall Street Journal had access, also show that Facebook considered charging companies for continued access to user data in 2012. In the meantime, following up on the “Definers” case, BuzzFeed News, accessed to emails proving that Sandberg herself was actively involved in looking into Soros and his possible financial motivations. 

Regulation is now?

Also auditioned, Elizabeth Denham, UK information Commissioner advocates for transnational cooperation between regulators. According to her, the era of self-regulation is over. Following the audition, Parliamentarians from across the world signed a declaration on the “Principles of the Law Governing the Internet”. Can this be any worse for Facebook? Mark Scott from Politico explains why this “empty chair” strategy now is backfiring.

Trying to prove its goodwill, last week, Zuckerberg published a blueprint for content moderation on the platform. Among the measures, he announced the company will hold content moderation meetings with outside experts which minutes will be published.

Read here the full transcript of the audition

Local news

Meanwhile, Facebook will have a new function to police on its app, as it launched “Today In”, its local news aggregator available in 400 small to medium-sized US cities and Australia. In Europe, Facebook is donating 4.5 million pounds ($5.8 million) to train journalists in Britain to support communities that have lost local newspapers and reporters, due to readers switching online.

Defending journalists

First draft kicked off its journalists training project “CrossCheck” in Nigeria, ahead of elections happening in February in the country. Journalists from around the world unite against disinformation but that doesn’t please everyone. During a visit in Paris, Russian foreign minister Lavrov openly declared being “preoccupied” by initiatives such as the Journalism Trust initiative launched by Reporters Without Border. For the organisation, such statement is particularly worrying in a climate of defiance towards a free and rigorous press. From the case of Filipino Journalist Maria RessaPeter Pomerantsev  advocates for the establishment of clear digital rights.

Think global act local

Meanwhile, Facebook will have a new function to police on its app, as it launched “Today In”, its local news aggregator available in 400 small to medium-sized US cities and Australia. In Europe, Facebook is donating 4.5 million pounds ($5.8 million) to train journalists in Britain to support communities that have lost local newspapers and reporters, due to readers switching online.

From Russia with Trolls

Last week, the Guardian revealed the influence of Russian trolls over British media. Members of a Russian “troll army” were quoted more than 80 times across British-read media outlets before Twitter revealed their identity and banned them. Regarding Russian influence on news media, Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has said the search engine is preparing to take action against state-run Russian news agencies, including Russia Today and Sputnik, which are accused of spreading propaganda by US intelligence agencies.


What to read, watch and listen to this week: